Posted by: sweeneyblog | June 17, 2013

Interviewing Ken Bell

Ken Bell looked straight at the time keeper at the Whatcom Republicans meeting who had just given him the thirty seconds sign. “Oh, I hate you,” he growls menacingly, before lightening the comment with a natural smile. The crowd cracks up as Bell wraps up his pitch for office.

Ken Bell

Ken Bell for Port

Bell, currently a Whatcom County Planning Commissioner and president of Best Recycling, is trying to add one more job title to his name, port commissioner. My first question is pretty simple, why the port? “It’s in my wheelhouse. I know the business, I know the ramifications of their decisions because I’ve worked with ports up and down the coast as part of Best Recycling.”

He walks me through some of his history in the community: buying a plant from Pete Zuanich, crossing swords with his neighbors in the Silver Beach neighborhood, and watching the waterfront cleanup. The port first caught his interest when they bought his office building. “I thought to myself, ‘you have this expensive waterfront cleanup hanging over your heads and you are making a five million dollar building purchase? I still don’t know why they bought it.”

Bell currently serves on the Planning Commission, but he admits it has been a difficult role. “It is easy to get disillusioned on the Planning Commission.” The chair of the Commission, County Council candidate Michelle Luke, agrees. “Of all the cats I have to herd on the commission, Ken is the most un-herdable,” she laughs. “I think he enjoys it that way.”

What are his issues for the port? “Liability. I wish I had a hand in the GP purchase. We have a huge liability there. It is basically a capped landfill . . . and I have some serious questions as to the nature of the contaminants.” He said the port needs to focus on attracting “the right mix of businesses. You need a mix of public and private operations. I haven’t seen the whole plan, but when you do it in chunks, you shortchange yourself.”

I asked him what he thought of the incumbent he was trying to unseat, Mike McAuley. “I like him, he is a nice guy. I just want to have an impact on the port.”

Ken Bell at the South Pole

Ken Bell at the South Pole

Naturally, I asked him his view on the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. “We don’t have any say. For me, it is more of a philosophical thing, I honestly believe China will find a way to get coal, whether it is from Bellingham or somewhere else, they will get it. If you got to burn coal, I’d rather see it burned here in the U.S.” I asked if he supports the facility and he gives a half-shrug. “I’m not a big fan, but they are going to get it, we’re just making it more difficult to burn here, we might as well ship it through here,” he pauses and gives me a sly grin, “. . . in a responsible manner.”

Speaking of responsible growth, I ask about the airport which continues to swell every year. “I use the airport a lot,” said Bell. “We are perfectly situated here, we have an opportunity to bring things through our doors and receive the economic impact of all that travel.” However, he was not without a few complaints. “The shuttles don’t quite make sense and we need to do something about the parking there. We are missing an opportunity.”

Technically, the race is non-partisan but with Mike McAuley asking for both parties endorsements (and so far, receiving the Whatcom Democrats) I asked him where he falls. “I’m a little more right of center than most.” Do you consider yourself a Republican? “You know, that is the hardest question you have asked me. I was a Republican for years, but now, I’m not a fan of either party. When the party matters more than the idea, I hate that. Philosophically, I’m a free market guy, all the way, but I don’t think ideas are only in one party.” However he did endorse Tea Party darling Tony Larson in 2011 and has voted with the rest of the Planning Commission to keep breaking the law.

Why should people vote for Bell? “There are people out there that try to fix problems that don’t exist, you can’t! I want to make sure that we have a port that works. My business specializes in retrieving things in hard-to-get-to places. I hope that the port is not one of those places.”

I plan to interview all candidates for local office this year and build a thorough voter’s guide. Stay tuned for more great interviews and analysis!



  1. I take exception with Mr. Bell’s use of “alot” in this sentence “I use the airport alot,” If Mr. Bell does not know that “alot” is spelled ‘a lot’ then I question his qualifications. This is an outrage!!!

    • It quoted him on that – I wanted to space it out but then it sounded like he was just parking his car in the airport. I use the airport, a lot. Just doesn’t quite work.

  2. Ken will make a tough opponent for Mike. He is articulate and has a good sense of humor. And, with the sale of that building, his campaign should be well-financed. I sure wish as a candidate that he had seen the whole plan, though.

    • Hey Bob, the building the port purchased was owned by out of town investors, not Bell.

      I supported the purchase because we took money otherwise invested elsewhere and put it to work here in our town AND with ownership we can repurpose the ground floor to better support the area. Best case we get something like a brewpub in the old, usually empty, ground-floor ballroom which is sucking the life out of the adjacent plaza and the building goes back to the open market (private ownership) in a couple years. I couldn’t get Jim and Scott to commit to that particular plan but that’s the commitment I have.

  3. […] Bell, who I published an interview from earlier this week, got the first “zinger” question of the night, asking him about missing “roughly […]

  4. Anybody who shrugs at a massive coal dump on our shoreline is one spoke short of a full wheelhouse.
    Look around you the next time you’re down at the South Pole for signs of coal pollution everywhere on Earth.

  5. […] ran into some unexpected resistance. Both Republican-endorsed candidates, Dan Robbins and Ken Bell (read my interview with him here), balked at the idea of a […]

  6. […] The hottest races in Whatcom outside the County Council is clearly the Port. Similar to the County, you have four highly competitive candidates facing off in a race that will determine the balance of power for that organization. Business consultant Renata Kowalczyk is running against former mayoral candidate Dan Robbins for the open seat being vacated by Scott Walker. Meanwhile incumbent, green builder and former Marine Mike McAuley defends his seat against planning commissioner and recycling business owner Ken Bell. […]

  7. […] the color scheme is not bad and the name is clearly readable. So what is so wrong with Ken Bell‘s yard sign? Simple, the compass rose in the middle. Yard signs with overly complex images […]

  8. […] Ken Bell, former candidate for Port Commission who lost to Mike McAuley last year. Read my interview with him here. […]

  9. […] one specific person, I always try and get a good picture (see Bill Knutzen, Kathy Kershner, and Ken Bell for some conservative examples). My goal is never to make someone look foolish with a picture . . . […]

  10. […] tend to be rather gracious profiles, no matter the subject (see Bill Knutzen, Kathy Kershner, Ken Bell, Kelli […]

  11. […] to give voters the option on the November ballot to choose proportional representation. (Bell “was a Republican for years” but is now disenchanted with both parties, figuring ideas should matter more than political […]

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